Regardless of your gender, sexual orientation, or age, it’s perfectly normal to not experience an orgasm every single time you engage in sexual activity. This isn’t surprising when you consider that orgasm is contingent on so many different factors.
For example, orgasm may not occur if you find yourself really distracted during sex, if you consumed a little too much alcohol if you’re feeling extra stressed or tired, if you feel disconnected from your partner, or if the sex just doesn’t feel that good.
So when we realise an orgasm isn’t going to happen for whatever reason, what do we do? It turns out that a lot of people will pretend to have one. But just how many people have ever faked an orgasm before? What are the most common reasons for doing it? Is pretending to orgasm a good or bad idea? Let’s take a look at what the research says.
How Many People Have Ever Faked An Orgasm?
Studies on the prevalence of faking orgasm date back several decades. Most early studies focused only on women. I suspect this is because researchers long assumed that pretending to orgasm was something that only women did in light of other data demonstrating a sizable ‘orgasm gap.’ Study after study found that heterosexual women experience orgasm during partnered sex far less consistently than heterosexual men, which means that women are more likely to be in situations where faking orgasm might be an option.
What the data show is that somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of women reported having ever faked an orgasm. The numbers vary based on the age of the women surveyed and their relationship status, but no matter how you look at it, they point to a pretty high prevalence.
More recently, researchers have begun to look at fake orgasms in men, and what they’ve found is that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 men say they’ve done it before, too.
Virtually all of the research on fake orgasms has focused on cisgender, heterosexual adults, so we don’t know much about their prevalence among gender and sexual minorities. However, persons of any gender or sexuality may do this from time to time, given that orgasm is a complex phenomenon that doesn’t always happen.
Why Do People Fake Orgasms?
It might be tempting to assume that people fake orgasms simply because they’ve been culturally conditioned to see orgasm as the end of sex—the “finish,” if you will. However, when you look at the data, it shows that people’s reasons for faking orgasm are many and varied.
It turns out that there are at least six different classes or types of reasons people report for faking an orgasm. These include:
- Orgasm was unlikely to occur, or it was taking too long to get there. In other words, someone might fake it because they were a bit too intoxicated, they had already orgasmed that day, they just weren’t getting the stimulation they needed, or they just rarely orgasm in general.
- Wanting sex to be over. Sometimes, people fake orgasms because they want sex to end. For instance, maybe they got bored, the sex was painful, or they just wanted to go to sleep instead.
- My partner was about to orgasm. Some people adhere to sexual scripts that dictate orgasm should happen for everyone at the same time, which prompts some folks to fake it as soon as their partner’s orgasm begins.
- To avoid negative consequences. Another motivation for faking orgasm stems from feeling as though something bad will happen if they don’t appear to orgasm, such as their partner’s feelings being hurt, concern about feeling sexually inadequate, or wanting to avoid an awkward conversation about why orgasm did not happen.
- To experience positive consequences. On the flip side, some people fake orgasms because they get some benefit out of it. For example, they might do it to please or validate their partner—and they get pleasure from their partner’s satisfaction. Or perhaps the act of faking it brings them pleasure in and of itself as a form of release.
- I did not want to have an orgasm. The least common reason for faking it appears to be not wanting an actual orgasm. This might be perplexing to some, but it makes sense when you consider that orgasm isn’t a universally positive experience for everyone. For example, it’s rare, but some people experience post-orgasmic illness syndrome, in which they literally become ill for several days after having an orgasm.
Reasons for faking orgasm appear to differ across gender. For example, men are more likely to report faking orgasm because they were too intoxicated or too tired, whereas women are more likely to say they faked orgasm because they didn’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings or because they wanted to please their partner.
Is Faking Orgasm A Good Or Bad Idea?
As a sex educator, I used to be of the mindset that no one should ever fake an orgasm. My reason for thinking this was because faking orgasm perpetuates the false narrative that orgasm has to happen every time you have sex. This amplifies the pressure to orgasm (something sex therapists call the ‘orgasmic imperative’)—which, in turn, can actually make orgasm even less likely to occur because we get stuck in our heads.
Plus, when you fake an orgasm, you may give your partner false impressions about what you like or enjoy during sex. As a result, you may be less likely to get what you actually want from sex in the future.
That said, as more research in this area has emerged, my view has changed somewhat because it is now clear that faking orgasm is a complex phenomenon. People do it for a lot of different reasons, and not all of the reasons are inherently bad.
For example, if you get personal enjoyment out of pretending to orgasm (e.g., it brings you pleasure or you want to enhance your partner’s pleasure), there’s nothing wrong with that. Likewise, we sometimes find ourselves in uncomfortable or awkward sexual situations that we want to exit. Ideally, people would just stop and vocalize their feelings in these cases. However, some people find it really challenging to do this because we do such a poor job of teaching sexual communication skills in sex ed. So if faking orgasm allows you to easily extract yourself from a situation you no longer want to be in, some people may see a benefit in that.
On the other hand, if you find yourself routinely faking orgasm because the sex just doesn’t feel good, you feel a lot of pressure to orgasm, or sex always finishes before you ever even have a chance to orgasm, that’s another story. If you’re faking orgasms in the context of a persistently unsatisfying sex life, that’s where you want to step back and reevaluate your approach to sex.
What do you need in order to orgasm? Explore your body and figure out what it is that brings you pleasure, and then communicate about this with your partner. If your partner isn’t receptive to this, or they keep putting all of this pressure on you to orgasm, then you need to think about whether this is a sexual relationship you even want to be in.
Faking orgasm is a relatively common experience for men and women alike, but especially women. However, people’s reasons for pretending to orgasm are highly variable—there isn’t just one reason people fake orgasms.
Whether faking an orgasm is a good or bad idea ultimately depends on your motivations for doing it in the first place—and how you feel about it. If pretending the occasional orgasm is something you want to do, you see some benefit in it, and you’re otherwise happy with your sex life, that’s your decision, and there shouldn’t be any shame in that.
However, when faking orgasm becomes a way to cover up an unsatisfying sex life, or when it’s something you don’t want to do but feel pressure to, that’s another story.
Remember that you deserve pleasure—not pressure.
Lehmiller, J. J. (2017). The psychology of human sexuality. John Wiley & Sons.
Muehlenhard, C. L., & Shippee, S. K. (2010). Men’s and women’s reports of pretending orgasm. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 552-567.
Wiederman, M. W. (1997). Pretending orgasm during sexual intercourse: Correlates in a sample of young adult women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 23, 131–135.